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Palestinians Ask U.N. for Help in Protecting Arafat

A draft resolution demands that Israel cease threats to the leader's safety.

September 16, 2003|Maggie Farley and Henry Chu | Times Staff Writers

UNITED NATIONS — The Palestinians sought the U.N. Security Council's help to protect Yasser Arafat on Monday, after Israel's threats to "remove" the Palestinian Authority leader last week. However, a vote on a resolution was derailed by the same Israeli-Palestinian tensions the council is seeking to resolve.

In a special Security Council session, the Palestinian and Israeli envoys traded recriminations over the breakdown of the peace process. Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman said Arafat lied when he said he would renounce terrorism, and called him "his own people's devil of death and greatest tragedy."

Palestinian representative Nasser Kidwa said Israeli action against Arafat would be "illegal and insane," and he stormed out of the chamber as Gillerman was speaking.

A draft resolution introduced by Syria on the Palestinians' behalf demands that Israel cease threats to Arafat's safety. It also calls for a halt to violence and increased efforts by both sides to implement a U.S.-backed peace plan commonly called the "road map," a step-by-step process toward the creation of a Palestinian state as early as 2005.

As diplomats from 47 countries weighed in on how to revive the peace plan, there was little disagreement about the impropriety of eliminating Arafat, politically or physically. U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said the Bush administration had made it clear to Israel that it did not support Arafat's elimination or forced exile.

However, he also said the U.S. would veto any resolution that did not specifically condemn three Palestinian terrorist groups -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade -- that the administration says have damaged prospects for peace.

"I think we all recognize the tragic dynamic in play in the Middle East," Negroponte said. "Each time a glimmer of hope, however dim, appears, a terrorist act seeks to extinguish it."

After a daylong debate, Syria declined to amend the resolution in the face of the U.S. threat to veto, and the council postponed a vote.

In another move, the administration said Monday that it planned to withhold some portion of a $9-billion package of loan guarantees for Israel because of settlement activities in the West Bank. No dollar amount was given.

Asked about the decision, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan described the move as implementing an existing policy.

"It was passed in the 2003 supplemental [budget legislation] and now we're moving forward to implement it," said McClellan, who was traveling with President Bush in Drexel Hill, Pa.

As diplomats traded barbs in New York, Israel showed signs of backing away from one official's harsher language toward Arafat.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom played down comments by the Israeli deputy prime minister that assassination was one of the options being considered.

Ehud Olmert had said Sunday that killing the 74-year-old leader was a logical extension of Israel's campaign to hunt down Islamic militants.

"We are trying to eliminate all the heads of terror, and Arafat is one of the heads of terror," Olmert told Israeli radio. "In my eyes, from a moral point of view, this is no different from killing others who were involved in ... acts of terror."

At a briefing with foreign reporters, Shalom backtracked from Olmert's remarks.

Assassinating Arafat "is not the official policy of the Israeli government.... We didn't speak about it before, and we don't speak about it today," Shalom said.

Israel's decision to somehow oust Arafat has boosted his popularity in the Palestinian territories. On Monday, more demonstrators, including schoolchildren, turned out at his battered compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah to show support for their elected president.


Farley reported from the United Nations and Chu from Jerusalem. Times staff writer Maura Reynolds in Drexel Hill contributed to this report.

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